• Say it’s draconian, ask N’Assembly to drop it

The Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO) comprising the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), the Nigeria Guild of Editors and the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), as well as other media stakeholders have rejected the Nigerian Press Council Bill 2018, describing it as draconian, unconstitutional and against the rule of law.

In a communiqué issued at the end of their meeting held on July 19, 2018 to deliberate on the bill, the stakeholders stated that they “painstakingly studied the provisions of the proposed bill in the context of its implication for free speech, press freedom, media independence, safety of journalists and the right to operate as a business in accordance with the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

They added that the meeting also took notice of the fact that a law suit instituted by the Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO) on the same subject matter of the bill is pending at the Supreme Court.

The stakeholders stated that the proposed bill is “unconstitutional as it runs against the principles and tenets of the rule of law and is actually subjudice given that a case on the subject matter is still pending in the highest court of the land – the Supreme Court – in view of which the bill should not have been drafted in the first instance.”

According to them, “The bill is, for all intents and purposes, draconian and anti-press freedom being an amalgamation of the obnoxious Public Officers Protection Against False accusation Decree No. 4 of 1984 and the Newspapers Registration Decree 43 of 1993, both vestiges of the dark days of military rule and therefore incurably and irreparably bad, being also inconsistent with values of our democratic society.”

The communiqué also noted that the bill “seeks to criminalise journalism practice despite the fact that the laws of the country already have enough provisions and avenues for seeking legal redress.”

The NPO and the other media stakeholders described the bill as an attempt at undue interference in the operations of the media in Nigeria as businesses registered under the relevant laws of the federation.

They said the bill seeks for the Nigeria Press Council to usurp the powers of the courts by assuming extra-judicial powers.

They said, “The bill seeks to incapacitate the media in the exercise of the duties and obligations imposed on it by section 22 of the constitution to monitor governance and hold government accountable to the people. The section states as follows, ‘The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people’. The bill violates the provisions of section 39 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) sections 1 and 2 of which state as follows:

“(1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.

(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions,” the communiqué stated.

The Nigerian media stakeholders also argued that the bill violates Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement Act) No. 2 of 1983 to which Nigeria is a signatory and which is now part of the country’s laws.

“The bill through some of its other obnoxious provisions seeks to indoctrinate Nigerians, THROUGH THE USE AND MISUSE of curricula in training of journalists and usurp the powers of the regulatory bodies in the educational sector affecting media training especially the National Universities Commission and the National Board for Technical Education. The bill seeks to create the impression that the Nigerian media community does not take the issues of ethics and self regulation seriously whereas it is a well known fact that the mechanisms actually exist including the Code of Conduct of Journalists in Nigeria, the Ethics Committees of the NUJ and NGE and the recently launched Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage endorsed by media stakeholders,” the communiqué explained.

The communiqué urged the National Assembly to drop the bill until the determination of a similar case in the Supreme Court of Nigeria, stressing that the Nigerian Senate should borrow from best practices in other jurisdictions that has expressly provided for and guaranteed press freedom without any form of government interference.

“The Senate and indeed The National Assembly should enable the media in the exercise of its constitutional obligations as spelt out in section 22 by passing laws that will promote transparency, accountability and open government such as mandatory delivery of the State of the Nation address by the President and State of The State Address by Governors on specified days of the year; ensuring by law, Presidential and Governorship Election Debates before elections; complete transparency in election funding including public declaration of sources of election finance by all candidates and political parties and ensuring the integrity of our electoral process,” the communiqué added.

The stakeholders expressed the commitment that as responsible members of the Nigerian society, the media would continue to “promote media ethics, professionalism, transparency, accountability and self-regulation, to ensure that the public interest is served at all times”.

The communiqué was signed by the President, Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria/President Nigerian Press Organisation, Prince Nduka Obaigbena; President, Nigeria Guild of Editors, Mrs. Funke Egbemode; President, Nigerian Union of Journalists, Mr. Waheed Odusile; and the Chairman, Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, Mr. John Momoh.

Others who signed for the media stakeholders include Director, International Press Centre, Mr. Lanre Arogundade; Executive Director, Institute for Media and Society, Dr. Akin Akingbulu; and the Director, Media Law Centre, Mr. Richard Akinnola.